Teaching While Parenting: About This Series
By Kristine Mraz
First, let’s start with a story.
I have a one year old baby. I delight in his antics and his growth. He seems like a miracle and every little thing he learns astounds me. I marvel at his existence and the billions of emerging neurons that drive him to explore, discover, experiment, and inquire. What an incredible thing babies are!
Then we had a playdate with another baby. Lo and behold, this baby is talking! This baby is walking! This baby appears to be doing complex algebra while reading the Canon. My baby seems to have his head stuck behind a chair.
Hmm, I think.
Hmm, I think as we head home. Hmmm, I think as I watch him smash avocados into his hair. Hmm, I think as I lay him down to sleep.
Maybe I should see what google has to say about what a one year old should be doing, I think.
Anyone who has typed a medical symptom into the search bar knows where this is going. According to google my precious, brilliant one year old appears to be months behind in his milestones and I, of course, lose my mind. I spiral out futures for him, I think about the hundreds of kids I have taught, I worry.
Sure, I also read, “Kids develop differently.” and I read, “these are just guidelines.” but still I worry. I think again about the hundreds of kids I have taught. I spiral more futures for him.
We go to our one year check-up. My notebook has TWO FULL PAGES of raw panic posing as questions. Our doctor, who I trust with my life, comes in, this poor man asks, “How are we doing? Any questions?” I clear my throat, I begin.
I get three questions in when he stops me. I’m already crying.
He asks me a few clarifying questions, and then he looks me in the eyes and starts with, “I’m not worried and here is why.” He gives me a speech about growth over benchmarks and development and the dangers of comparison and in his words I hear an echo of the speech I give to parents who worry about whether or not their five year old should be doing X or Y. He gives me things to look for an a timeline for when we might take another look. He reassures me with empathy and logic and statistics and mantras I can chant. He is a calming island of logic and perspective in the chaotic sea of love and terror that is parenthood. He has reminded me of the most important thing: my child is more than anything that can be measured with a benchmark or a milestone. He has reminded me that some things are out of my control.
I would like to say that I do not think you need to have a child to be a great teacher. Having been a child once ourselves, we are capable of the empathy required to be compassionate thoughtful instructors. However, becoming a parent has impacted how I interact with the parents of my little charges. My perspective has radically changed. It is something I really need to talk about.
What is this and who is it for?
Sitting in that doctor’s office made me acutely aware of the shaded part of the venn diagram that I now reside in: teacher and parent. Depending on which way I orient, I feel different feelings, think different thoughts, ask different questions. I am working to sit in the tension between the two, and use that frequency to think about common encounters I have had with parents of my students. So what is this? A series of posts, some by me, some by other teacher-parents, that attempts to ask and answer questions common to the schooling experience, questions like: “What do I do if a/my child hates school?”, “How do I know if it is the right school for a/ my child?”, “What do I say if a/my child is feeling bullied?”, “What if a/my child is struggling?”
As I write, it occurs to me how amazing it is that two of the first sight words children learn (my/a) carry some of the biggest punch. There is a vast and unending well of emotion between saying “a child” and “my child”. I hold both those notes (my child/a child) simultaneously, and it is finding the harmony between them that drives this series.
In taking on some of these questions, I hope to bridge the divide that can sometimes open up between professional and parent, to bring us back to our common goals and desires. It is aiming to be a mix of logic and statistics, and empathy, and maybe a little bit of therapy. We all struggle in this role of parent, we all struggle in this role of teacher.
Which brings us to who the intended audience might be. Well certainly parents, for one. But I also hope teachers (with and without their own children) find value in the posts, maybe some new ways of talking about old topics, or maybe just some layered understandings.
A friend of mine, who is a parent but not a teacher, often taps me for advice on what to do with her school age children. She listened to my one year check up story and said, “I can’t tell you how much of a relief it is to hear that you are also insane.” We laughed, but it is the truth. I love my child, I am terrified for my child. Let’s get some mantras and lets get through this wild, unpredictable landscape together.
This is the first installment in a series by Kristine Mraz on the intersection of teaching and parenting. Be sure to check out the rest of the series here:
Kristine Mraz is coauthor — with Christine Hertz — of the new Kids First from Day One, which provides a practical blueprint for increasing the child-centeredness of your teaching practice. She and Christine previously teamed up for the bestselling A Mindset for Learning (coauthored with Christine Hertz), which provides practical and powerful strategies for cultivating optimism, flexibility, and empathy alongside traditional academic skills.
Kristi has also coauthored — with Alison Porceli and Cheryl Tyler — Purposeful Play, the book that helps you make play a powerful part of your teaching. Her previous title is the bestselling. She and Marjorie Martinelli wrote Smarter Charts and Smarter Charts for Math, Science, and Social Studies to get the most out of this classroom staple. Their popular blog Chartchums keeps teachers in touch with ongoing and relevant classroom issues and ways to use charts as a support. Chartchums is also on Facebook and on Twitter @chartchums!
Kristi teaches Kindergarten in the New York City Public schools. In addition to writing and teaching, she consults in schools across the country and as far away as Taiwan. She primarily supports teachers in early literacy, play, and inquiry based learning. On the off chance she has free time, you’ll find Kristi reading on a couch in Brooklyn with her husband, and baby Harry. You can follow all of her adventures on twitter @MrazKristine or on her blog kinderconfidential.wordpress.com.